Rafael Nadal can’t be underestimated at Roland Garros – ‘I made the mistake of doubting him’

Rafael Nadal crowned 2022 French Open champion

Coco Gauff insists she won’t make the same mistake twice by underestimating Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros, even if he goes into the tournament without any matches under his belt on clay this year.

There are major question marks over 14-time French Open champion Nadal’s participation in this year’s clay-court Grand Slam as he hasn’t played any competitive matches since mid-January due to a hip injury.

Going into the French Open undercooked is always a big risk, but Nadal was in a similar situation last year as he had played only five matches on the surface ahead of the tournament yet still went all the way, defeating Casper Ruud in three sets in the final to win a record-extending title.

However, the big question is if it can be done with zero matches on the surface in the build-up to Paris.

World No 5 Gauff, though, feels it would be foolish to write the 22-time Grand Slam winner off ahead of the tournament.

“If he goes, I’m going to take him in Paris any day,” the American said. “I don’t think he needs match experience. I’m sure he probably would have preferred to play some matches before. I think that him and Roland Garros is something special.

“There’s been times, I remember last year, he was having that problem, completely lost that match, didn’t look like he was going to be ready at all. I made the mistake of doubting him.

“Next thing you know, he pretty much stormed his way to the final and won straight sets. He’s just a GOAT in that way, a GOAT on clay, someone you can’t underestimate.”

Besides Nadal, world No 1 Novak Djokovic and the in-form Carlos Alcaraz are the other favourites to win the 2023 title at Roland Garros, but Gauff admits the draw might be quite open this year.

She added: “I think for the tournament, if he doesn’t play, obviously it would suck to have a player like him not play, but also I feel like the tour has a lot of – I think it will open it up for the guys, the men’s side.

“Then again, we haven’t seen him play in so long. So maybe the draw is open. I don’t know. But I definitely think he’s going to be a threat regardless if he plays or not.”

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